Women from the Banchhada community, a denotified tribe of Madhya Pradesh, have been traditionally associated with sex work. They start working at an early age and are the primary bread earners of their families. The male members usually find employment in the informal sector, such as in construction work, where they get paid a meagre daily wage.
The stigma attached to sex work has made it difficult for both men and women to find alternate sources of livelihood. Anjali*, a member of the community, says, “It creates a situation where there’s an unfair burden on women to provide in every aspect of life.” This extends to marriages as well.
“When a man gets married, the bride’s family is paid a sum of INR 2–2.5 lakh. That amount is earned by the groom’s sister,” adds Anjali. These terms are dictated by the jati panchayat, a unit of the village panchayat that dictates the conduct of a particular caste. Similarly, if the bride wants to break out of the marriage, she or her family has to pay double the amount that they received to the groom’s family. In both the cases women are the ones who suffer.
Challenging this practice legally has not been easy. Going to the police or the court is pointless as the jati panchayat continues to dictate the community’s way of living of the community. “At the end of the day, we are still answerable to the panchayat,” Anjali informs, “because we have to live here.”
*Name changed to maintain confidentiality.
Anjali is employed with a nonprofit organisation that works with survivors of sexual violence and forced labour. Debojit Dutta is an editorial associate at IDR. This story is reconstructed from a conversation with Anjali.
Know more: Learn about a community-based approach to child marriage.